About 1000 words; 5 minutes to read

By Claire Wilmot , adapted from The Conversation

One of the major issues in the current debate over defunding the policing is whether police are being asked to do too many things that are not part of their core mission. With the passing of the new Police Services Act last year, Ontario’s Ministry of the Solicitor General acknowledged that other agencies and services are often better placed to respond to calls for assistance, up to 80 percent of which are non-criminal in nature, according to StatsCan. The new legislation asks municipalities to design “Community Safety and Well-being Plans”, which would shift focus away from crisis response, towards preventative work. The province has made $200 million over four years in grants to organizations across the province to support the Community Safety and Well-being (CSWB) Strategy.

Of this $200 million awarded last year, 99 per cent ($199 million) went to police forces on top of their annual budgets. City service providers and community organizations doing preventive work received less than one per cent ($1.6 million).

Grants to police and others

Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General – Community safety project grants (2019-2022)
Eligible recipients Name of grant Amount committed (entire province) % total %
Non-police community organizations & service providers Safer and Vital Communities Grant  $                      1,603,460.00 1% 1%
Police Proceeds of Crime Frontline Policing Grant  $                      4,000,000.00 2% 99%
Police Community Safety and Policing Grant – 107 local/municipal police departments  $                  181,000,000.00 90%
Police Community Safety and Policing Grant – 18 provincial police projects  $                    14,000,000.00 7%
Total:  $                  200,603,460.00 100%

Breakdown of provincial grants available for safety and well-being. Data: Ministry of the Solicitor General.  Original data at https://www.mcscs.jus.gov.on.ca/english/Policing/ProgramDevelopmentandGrants/GrantsandInitiatives/PSDPolicingGrantsRecipients2018.html

Rhetoric vs. reality

The province’s policy recognizes that crime has systemic roots, prevention trumps enforcement and communities need other options when it comes to emergency response. The CSWB strategy acknowledges that many challenges, such as mental health crises, are better managed through a “collaborative service delivery model that leverages the strengths of partners in the community,” instead of just the police.

That strategy is based on  research that shows how investing in socio-economic development and addressing risk factors early can help reduce crime and violence. It is similar to public health planning, where evidence consistently shows that it is more effective and less expensive to address health issues before they result in a visit to the emergency room.

And yet, the Province’s spending patterns contradict commitments to move away from “reactionary, incident-driven responses, refocusing investments towards the long-term benefits of social development and prevention.”

The 99 per cent

In Toronto, the police received $55.4 million (in addition to their billion-dollar budget). Only $360,775 was invested in organizations working to address the socio-economic roots of crime and violence in Toronto — that’s 0.7 per cent of the funding given to police.

To understand what kinds of projects these provincial grants support in the Toronto police, I broke down the figures.


Provincial community safety project grants received by the Toronto Police Service (2019-2022)*
* In addition to their annual  budget of $1.07 billion.
Ministry of Solicitor General Grant Description of Grant Grant Amount
Proceeds of Crime Frontline Policing Grant “Community engagement” — “This project is an innovative, application-based initiative focused on improving community safety and well-being by seeking locally-driven solutions through crowdsourcing”.  $                         160,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant “Neighborhood Officer Program” — 10 neighborhood officers deployed to Yonge/Dundas Square. “These officers conduct community patrols and are engaged in problem solving and intelligence gathering”.  $                      4,830,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant “Connected Officer Program” — This program will provide the TPS with 2,100 “mobile smart devices”, which includes a camera, audio recorder, video recorder, computer, and 2 way radio functions”. Description claims this will “enable officers to spend more time in the community”.  $                      8,387,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant “Inclusive Policing Transformation Initiative” — “This initiative seeks to establish the TPS as a leader in the area of diversity, equity, and inclusion”. Project includes collecting race-based data; a gender diversity and trans inclusion project; a review of harassment problems/policies; and a “diversity strategy to provide frontline members with opportunities to develop the competencies they need to serve Toronto’s diverse communities”.  $                      2,555,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant “IT Improvement & Robotic Processes Automation” —  Consists of 2 main projects: “TPS’s use of the Cloud and establish a data-governance framework for the management of the service’s data; Robotic automation can be used for prioritizing 911 calls, processing parking complaints, or transcribing 911 calls.”  $                      7,131,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant “Focusing on Safe and Well Communities: Conducted Energy Weapons (CEWs)”  (popularly known as Tasers)  —  “CEW’s are regarded as an appropriate use-of-force option to maintain public order and officer safety and help achieve a zero-death goal in encounters with the public. Part of the funding will be used to train all frontline members as qualified CEW users and recertify all current operators. The funding will also allow for the purpose of one full body scanner to scan people in custody and detect and locate contraband”.  $                      2,938,000.00
Community Safety and Policing Grant Public Safety Response Team (PSRT) — “Since its inception in 2018, the Toronto Police Service’s Public Safety Response Team (PSRT) initiative has proven extremely successful in providing capacity for extreme event response, public order and search management and critical infrastructure protection. PSRT is a flexible, intelligence-led, multi-functional team that provides support to frontline policing and community engagement initiatives. TPS seeks to maintain its existance thanks to the funding recieved”.  $                    29,399,968.00
Total:  $                    55,400,968.00

Breakdown of provincial community safety grants awarded to the Toronto Police Service. Data: Ministry of the Solicitor General

Dubious purposes

The province committed nearly $3 million to purchase Tasers, raising questions about the extent of the province’s commitment to investing in prevention or social development.

The $30 million Public Safety Response Team grant is similarly reaction-oriented, focusing on “extreme event response, public order and search management, and critical infrastructure protection.” While community and neighbourhood officers might play a preventive role, it is difficult to make a similar argument for mobile smart devices ($8.3 million) or IT improvement and robotic processes automation ($7.1 million).

Only six non-police organizations in Toronto dedicated to community safety and well-being received provincial funding. Margaret’s Housing and Community Support Services received just under $70,000 – one 40th of the amount for Tasers – even though it serves people who are at risk of coming into contact with the police due to poverty, mental health or addictions issues.

Why not more to community groups?

There are many organizations in Toronto working to  prevent violence in their own communities with very little funding, like the Zero Gun Violence Movement, a coalition of over 40 community organizations addressing socio-economic and structural causes of violence. City programs like FOCUS Toronto have significantly reduced reliance on police, but need well funded non-police services to succeed.

The Ministry of the Solicitor General did not answer directly when asked by e-mail if the province’s spending on the police reflected its aspirations for community safety. But it did say that it “encourages collaboration between police services and community organizations in the delivery of community safety initiatives.”

Encouraging collaboration is one thing. Actually funding it is another.

The fact that so little funding is available for non-police service providers is even more troubling because the new Police Services Act requires municipalities to design, implement (and fund) CSWB plans. Providing so much additional money to police and so little to other safety and well-being organizations means enforcement will overshadow prevention.

Providing $200 million over four years is not a huge amount when spread across Ontario, but it is also not insignificant — especially considering the shoestring budgets available to organizations doing vital work to address the socio-economic determinants of safety.

Defunding as reinvestment

Meanwhile, significant provincial cuts to municipal budgets will mean that Ontario cities have far fewer resources available for prevention and social development work. The Social Development, Finance and Administration program, where Toronto’s CSWB Unit is located, experienced a 30 per cent reduction in funding in 2020.

Social services are overstretched, and there is a real discussion to be had about the contributions of other provincial ministries in funding preventive work that would allow municipalities to fulfill their CSWB requirements under the new Police Services Act. But as it stands, the Ministry of the Solicitor General has over $200 million available for safety and well-being initiatives, and $199 million of that is going to police forces that are already very well funded.